Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Ports Mess

Here we have yet another case of the media creating a tempest by playing on people's emotions rather than presenting real data and providing real analysis. The Dubai ports deal was a non-issue that was used to whip up all kinds of emotional knee-jerk reactions from politicians and the public. Lets look at some facts.

What we are talking about here is a company operating a shipping terminal. A terminal loads and unloads ships. The people doing the loading and unloading are American longshoremen no matter who owns the terminal. Dubai isn't going to ship a colony of Arabs here in order to unload ships. Secondly, like an airline operating a passenger terminal, the operator of the shipping terminal is not responsible for port security or customs. In fact, our greatest worry shouldn't be here where the ships are unloaded, but at the port where the cargo is loaded. Who runs the terminal here has no bearing on what was loaded at the originating port.

In many news stories, it was presented as if the government approved transfer of ports to Dubai under some sort of secrecy. In fact, the US didn't "transfer" control of anything to anyone. A British terminal operator was bought by a UAE terminal operator. The same people would still show up to work every day at the US port to actually unload the ships. These would be Americans that live right here and work at the port for the terminal operator.

Having an American company operate the terminals here in the US does nothing to improve security where the cargo is loaded nor does it in any way improve security of the containers while they are in transit. If security were the real issue, we would be more worried about port operators in other countries than here where the cargo is unloaded.

The US is practically out of the global shipping business. There are practically no US flagged cargo ships left compared to what we had in the 1950's and 1960's. The US Merchant Marine is barely even a skeleton of it's former self. Very few ships are US flagged and crewed so having the cargo in foreign "hands" when it is loaded and while it is in transit is a much greater security threat that who unloads the container at the end of the line.

Nobody complains that China runs Long Beach harbor or that other foreign companies run other harbors. Again, they are terminal operators, not owners of the ports. The port operations are generally the responsibility of various oganizations called the Port Authority for the jurisdictions involved. Customs and Border Patrol are responsible for the goods and people that come through the ports no matter what company operates the terminal just as they are at airports no matter which airline runs a particular terminal.

In general, the media stories presented the issue as if the US Government was handing over 6 US ports to an Arab country. This is deliberate mis-information and designed to provoke an emotional response from the people which then causes a response by politicians that plays on those emotions rather than actually thinking through what is actually happening.

Here is what *I* think will happen: Some US port operator will begin to operate the ports. They will lose money or the port will lose traffic and some foreign operator will then buy the operations from them just as the British company did before. The simple fact is our port operations are being bought by foreign companies all the time. Placing the operations of the terminal into the hands of a US company doesn't mean it will be profitable. If the US company can not operate the port at rates that are competitive with other ports, the traffic will move to the lower cost ports. Take Long Beach. It handles a lot of cargo that is loaded in China by a Chinese company, sails on a Chinese ship, and is unloaded here by a Chinese company. This keeps the costs down. If the Chinese company is forced out and a US company took over, you might see cargo arrive in Mexico instead of Long Beach if the US company couldn't compete in price.

What we are really talking about here is economics. Once again the media has managed to distort the issue and make it into something that it isn't. Personally, I don't care who runs the port terminals. In fact, if it were in my power, I would mandate that at least two different companies operate in each port but we probably don't currently have the facilities to do that. Long Beach, the largest port on the US West coast is operated by the government of China. Bill Clinton signed and executive order transferring operations to China in January 1998 and we had no media blitz. I wonder why.

All this latest tempest in a teapot has done is reinforce with me the fact that 50% of the US population is below the median intelligence level (by definition, in fact). Having a crane operated by a foreign company that moves a container from a ship to a rail car is a lot less of a security threat to me than who crews the ship and who loaded the containers at the other end.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:23 PM PST  
Blogger crosspatch said...

Hmm, and that has something to do with the subject of my posting? I would disagree with the notion expressed in that article you linked to that the US only enters a country if it has resources. Just exactly what resources do Grenada, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somolia have that would somehow entice the US to send troops there?

This notion that the US only intervenes when oil or some other economic resource is involved is not reflected in the historical reality and is mainly a figment of someone's imagination. Sure, SOMETIMES the country has some resource, but more often it doesn't have any resource other than people suffering an unjust government.

The number one killer of Muslims over the years is other Muslims. This trend continues today in Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and other countries.

6:47 PM PST  

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